The Latest Superbug: Candida auris
Candida auris is a fungus spreading across the United States. This “superbug” is drug-resistant, making it incredibly difficult to treat with common anti-fungal medications. Candida auris typically only afflicts those with compromised immune systems, so most of us don’t need to worry. That said, Candida auris is just the latest of many superbugs that are emerging as threats to our livelihoods. In fact, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in partnership with the UK, have committed $52 million to fight superbugs. Their contribution to medical research will support the development of antibiotics and vaccines that superbugs haven’t yet grown resistant to. While the investment is good news, it shouldn’t need to be made in the first place. Superbugs have become a threat due to irresponsible treatment regimens administered by those in the medical and agricultural communities.
Short Term Treatment at the Expense of Long Term Safety
The discovery of antibiotics have proven to be one of the greatest achievements in the history of modern medicine. Andrew Fleming’s unintentional breakthrough with penicillin ultimately saved millions of lives. Penicillin proved effective in fighting off pneumonia, scarlet fever, gonorrhea, and other bacterial infections. Fleming’s advancement of science earned him the Nobel Prize and paved the way for the development of other antibiotics. While I’d love to end the story there, it’s best we turn to the next chapter.
In the years since Fleming’s discovery, antibiotics have too often been prescribed as a first-line of defense to patients’ illnesses. Medical guidelines explicitly state the cases in which antibiotics should be prescribed. Unfortunately, these guidelines haven’t been followed responsibly. As a result of this negligence, bacteria are becoming immune to treatments that had formerly been effective in killing them. Our long term safety from superbugs, therefore, might hinge on the development of new treatments.
Antibiotic Abuse in Agriculture
Agriculture has become industrialized. Animals no longer roam freely; instead, they are enclosed in small spaces, fed plentifully, and slaughtered. Farmers typically give the animals antibiotics to prevent illness and encourage growth. That said, many of the animals don’t actually need antibiotics. This practice ultimately leads to consumers of animal meat to develop resistance to antibiotics. There are, of course, alternatives to the use of antibiotics in the agricultural sector. Free ranging cattle get sick far less often than those raised in captivity do. Farmers can raise animals responsibly, which ultimately will result in both healthier animals and humans.
How to Avoid a Superbug Pandemic
Avoiding the spread of incurable superbugs needs to be a collective effort. The medical community must exercise discipline in treating patients. Antibiotics should only be prescribed when necessary. Additionally, research projects like the one funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK need to be undertaken more frequently. Newly discovered vaccines and antibiotics could help in fighting the next threat. Lastly, agricultural practices must change. New farming paradigms, like regenerative agriculture, could stop the development of antibiotic resistance among humans.
Stopping superbugs will not be an easy feat. As expertise in genetic engineering grows, man-made superbugs may be created. The effort to eliminate this threat involves many stakeholders and cooperation. It’s important we get started now.
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